How to Build Better Health and Fitness Habits

Written by Elly McGuinness

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Habits form the important foundation for sustainable, long term changes. In essence, they’re a crucial part of achieving your health and fitness goals.

Habits are formed when you repeat an action consistently over time, to create certain behaviours. In a health and fitness context, a few examples of habits include:

Habits are actions that are triggered automatically. Once you’ve established a habit, it’s something you’ll be able to do without any considerable conscious effort.

Here are some of the steps you can take to easily build better health and fitness habits.

Decide what you want to change

Before you change your habits, you first need to understand what you want to change! To begin with, take stock of your current habits. Some of them will be positive, others less so. There are some habits that you might not label as either positive or negative.

Write down your current habits, and decide whether each one is positive, negative, or neutral. This exercise will help highlight which habits are not serving you in your quest to achieving your health and fitness goals. Then you’ll have a better idea of what habit you’re going to start with.

Make very small changes

One of the most important considerations for building better habits is to keep things simple and easy.  Decide on just one habit you want to change, and make sure it’s something simple and small. The change has to be easy to execute.

This is an important key when it comes to sustainable, long term changes. Although the change you initially make might not seem overly exciting, it’s important to understand that these small changes add up to big results.

Studies have shown that it’s easier to build habits when you choose small, simple actions, rather than big, elaborate tasks. An example of a small task could be drinking a bottle of water in between breakfast and lunch.

Understand your barriers to success

Before you start your plan for building better habits, first understand what is holding you back. When you understand the reasons why you’ve created a “bad” habit, you might decide on a different approach to changing it. Sometimes the root cause needs to be tackled to make sustainable change easier.

Make sure it’s important to you

Before you start making any changes, it’s important to check that the new habit you want to create is important to you. It should be something that you want to do and is connected to the health and fitness goals you have set. Your health and fitness goals should have strong emotional drivers behind them. In essence, this means that there is a strong “why” behind your desire to form new habits, and in turn, to achieve your health and fitness goals.

Establish new triggers

Triggers are also known as “cues”, and they’re an essential step in building better habits. A trigger, (or cue), precedes the action you take, which helps you develop your new habit-forming behaviours.

Your trigger should be something that already happens consistently. For example, if you are already in the habit of eating breakfast every day, then “breakfast” could be your cue. You have your breakfast, and then the action that is going to help you build your new habit happens straight after breakfast.

How to Build Better Health and Fitness Habits-healthy food choices-fruit platejpg


During the habit-building process, the process of “swapping” one thing for another can be useful. It’s a gentler and easier approach than taking something away. For example, you might choose to swap processed breakfast cereal for oats. Or swap your afternoon chocolate bar for a low-sugar protein bar.

There is likely to be some degree of preparation involved to implement this swap. Again, make sure it is something that you can do simply and easily.

Progress, not perfection

Studies on habit change and health have shown that it’s ok to occasionally miss the opportunity to perform the behaviour linked to forming your new habit. One missed day does not need to be the end of your habit-forming process. If you miss a day, simply continue with your habit-forming behaviours the following day. Therefore, be careful about adopting an “all-or-nothing” mentality.


At the same time, consistency is essential when it comes to forming new habits. Habits are formed when you repeat an action consistently, in the same environment. This is yet another reminder to ensure that whatever you decide to change, make it a small one.


The habit-forming process starts with the cue, which triggers an action, and should then provide an immediate reward. An immediate reward can occur when your target behaviour invokes pleasure or is valued intrinsically.

For example, your new habit could be taking a 10-minute walk after dinner. Dinner is the cue, and the 10-minute walk is the action. The pleasure could be the endorphins you feel when you get your blood pumping and breathe in the fresh air.

You might also consider setting another specific reward that you can enjoy after your habit is fully established. Your habit could take a few weeks, or several months to become established. This depends on factors such as how simple and small your habit is.

Further considerations for building better health and fitness habits

  • Have an intervention plan in place. It’s common to get off track, but it’s not necessary to totally derail.
  • Write down your intentions. Create a written reminder of your new habit. Consider sticking it somewhere that you can read it every day, or perhaps writing your new habit down in a journal each day.
  • Get the support you need for successful habit change. This could be a training partner to help make your exercise sessions more fun, or a personal trainer for the ultimate accountability and support.

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